Ah. This is the life... A sunny beach, a drink in hand, gentle winds, and a blue sky. A few birds flew across the sky, dropping pieces of paper. Johnny got out of his folding chair in curiosity. What the hell?
As he walked closer to those pieces of paper Johnny noticed that he was walking quite slow, slower than usual. He took no noticed of it, even though it was getting annoying. Johnny felt dizzy; something is strange but he couldn't quite put a finger on it. Again, he was annoyed by how slow he was walking. He tried to hurry but to no avail - it was almost as if his body had this strange inertia.
After a bit of a struggle he finally got to those pieces of paper, now resting on the sand. Johnny picked up one of them. It looked like one of those slips of paper that come with fortune cookies.
"Today, you die." it said.
Suddenly there was a loud ringing sound. The burning sun glares off of the paper, further emphasizing the damning words. The ringing continued and Johnny was startled out of his sleep.
"Shit," Johnny muttered, "...Thank God."
He stumbled out of his bed and answered the phone.
"Hello," he said and was greeted by the pleasing sounds of a familiar voice - his mother. What she proceeded to tell him however brought his complexion to a displeasing milky green tone and made his heart flutter. "I just had a terrible dream," she said. "You were walking down the street when a truck spun out of control and hit you. I awoke paralyzed in fear, unable to convince myself you were alright, so I called." Masking his true inner feelings to spare his mother's heart, he feigned a chuckle and uttered some consoling words. "The worst part," she said, "the truck that hit you was full of fortune cookies-- how's that for fate?" John laughed again and bid his mother good night, however he himself was unable to get back to sleep. "This is too weird to be a coincidence," he thought "could this have been some sort of omen, perhaps a warning so that I may avoid an early and somewhat ironically amusing death?" Even in this moment of tension, John was evidently able to see some humour in the idea of perishing via a cargo of fortune cookies. Actually, I guess they'd be
he thought to himself, feeling some of the ominousness seep away the more he made fun of the situation.
Still..that was a pretty big coincidence...
Johnny didn't remember falling back asleep, and woke with a start to the raucous meowing of his cat, Sneaker. He pushed Sneaker off the bed, but it would not be put off. Finally he threw off the covers and followed the mewing Sneaker to his bowl, absently watching the cat eat, head in his hands at the kitchen table. In his sleep-deprived mind the fish-shaped cat morsels swam in front of his eyes and Johnny shook his head to bring himself back to reality.
Sighing, he stood to make a cup of tea, then decisively changed to coffee. The
Chinese drink tea,
he reminded himself darkly.
Johnny turned on the TV for some morning traffic, but was surprised when the program was not the traffic report but news regarding a death at the beach. At this time in the morning there's usually traffic report. Johnny looked at his watch.
"Oh damn, I'm gonna be late for work!" He had forgotten all about the time when he was slowly sipping his coffee and spacing out. Johnny dashed downstairs to his car and went off to work. At the traffic signal for the highway on-ramp he waited impatiently for an old man to cross the crosswalk. Just as the light was about to turn green, an old woman started crossing the crosswalk.
"What are you doing?!" Johnny exclaimed incredulously in his seat as the light turned green. The old lady slowly made her way across the crosswalk while the cars behind Johnny honked furiously.
The noise became rythmic. They honked. And honked...and honked...and honked...slowly Johnny's eyes came into focus as he realized the honking was actually the chiming of an ornate old grandfather clock. He looked around and noticed he was in a small, dignified room. Sitting across from him at the dark, highly polished wooden table was a man in a three-piece pinstripe suit, the chain of a gold pocketwatch visible across his vest, unconcernedly sipping at a steaming mug. Thick, soft area rugs in rich shades of maroons and browns were strewn artfully over the dark wooden floor. Heavy drapes with gold ties were drawn over floor to ceiling windows, pitching the room into a darkness lessened only by the fire crackling in the elaborate fireplace.
The man watched Johnny over the rim of his cup.
"Where am I?" Johnny asked nonchalantly, as if he didn't particularly care, nor was frightened out of his mind.
"Dead," the man said simply, sounding a trifle surprised. "Didn't you know?"
"What the hell?" Johnny said. The man looked at him with a strange smile, one that would be given to small children from grandparents. It could also be a snake leering at a hapless frog, it's hard to tell in the dimness of the room. Whatever the expression was, Johnny didn't like it one iota. "Ah, this is not hell my friend," the old man chided, "this is the Waiting Room."
Johnny swallowed a "what are you talking about" and instead quipped, "I'm not your friend, whoever you are-"
"Samuel," The man replied, "You can call me Sam."
"Uh... yeah... Sam," Johnny was throughly unconvinced, though he mentally admitted that from his car seat to this room was quite a leap indeed. Maybe he got knocked out or something and brought here. It's a conspiracy! Yeah, that must be it!
"I see that you are not convinced." Samuel picked up an ornate knife from the top of the wooden table and walked towards him.
"Hey-hey-hey what are you doing? ARGH!" Johnny screamed as Samuel threw the knife right at him.
It was like a scene form The Matrix. The knife floated in slow motion, aiming for the spot right between Johnny's eyes. He cringed (in slow motion), turned his head to the side (in slow motion), and raised his hands to cover his face (also in slow motion.) He let out one of those deep rumbly bellows that only people in slow motion make.
Time regained its proper rhythm as the knife quickly and cleanly skewered Johnny's left hand, then his right hand, and lodged itself in his right eye socket. All in all, a very good throw by Samuel. Effectively immobilized, Johnny yelped "OW!"
When the shock passed, there was no rush of pain. At all. Johnny tried to pull his hands away from his face, and thereby the blade from his his eye, but when he tugged he found it was quite stuck. Utterly confused, he meekly asked, "A little help?"
Samuel shook his head with a smile and crossed the room. He took a firm grip on the knife handle and with a satisfying squelch, removed it from Johnny's eye. There was no blood on the blade, it was dry to the touch, and Johnny's vision was clear.
"So I'm dead. Huh," he said with the calm that precedes hysterical panic.
"Indeed," said Samuel "And, I believe, the afterlife will see you now."
The room began to fade out, warping and pulling, the colors marbling and rearranging themselves to a busy city intersection.
"Dude! Hey!" Johnny screamed, noticing through his rising alarm the absence of vibration where his vocal cords should be. "How did I die?"
A few passersby turned their heads unconcernedly. No answer came; there certainly was no more paneled room, no more Samuel. Everything looked as normal as a sunny city day can, but this was emphatically, dreadfully not the world he knew. Okay, okay
he thought to himself, fighting down the sense of fear mingled with confusion that was quickly threatening to take over his last shreds of sanity, there's got to be a logical explanation..
Absently, he sat down on a nearby bench, head in his hands, thinking. I died. That's what they said. And this is my world, and it isn't.. WHY isn't it?
Johnny couldn't put his finger on it. All that he knew was that it was very clear beyond a shadow of a doubt to him that he had
died, and that this world seemed
familiar, but was all slightly askew. Everything seemed frightfully normal, except that it wasn't. It was as if Johnny had grown up in a Picasso painting, and suddenly seeing the world had right angles and order was as shocking and hard to understand as if all these normal people were suddenly transported to a Cubist planet. No, he had definitely died. But he was definitely back. This thought occurred to Johnny and he thought with a modicum of alarm that maybe he wasn't
really back. Very cautiously he poked his arm. It was solid. Cautiously he tested the pavement with his foot. It didn't move. This doesn't look like hell,
he thought, looking around. But it's certainly not my heaven, either.
"No, Johnny. Your heaven was at the beach. That's a touch blasphemous, you know."
Johnny jumped and fell off the bench in surprise. He looked around for the voice, but no one on the streets was paying attention to him; walking to work, to their cars, or about on errands.
A plump, greasy street vendor in jeans and a stained white tshirt looked at him sideways, apparently thinking he was crazy. Johnny stood up and brushed himself off.
"Lemminade?" the vendor asked in an unfamiliar combination of accent and speech impediment, holding up a clear cup of light blue liquid with magenta ice cubes. Johnny stared at it. He shook his head, as if to clear it, and stared again. The liquid was pale yellow, the ice cubes clear. The guy was apparently still waiting for an answer. "It's real, man, not that powdred junk. Have a cup, help clear your mind. You look like you gots some troubles today."
"Err..how much?" Johnny asked.
Johnny's nerves shot, he reached still-shaking hands into the pocket of his trousers, scrounging for money.
So Johnny is digging down deep in his trousers, wondering if being dead somehow affected the five bucks he thought should be down there. All he felt was a lint ball stuck in the pocket seam. That's strange,
he thought, I never leave the house without a couple of bucks...
He tried the other pocket.Ah, here we go. I must've put everything in my other pocket.
He grabbed what he assumed was a crumpled five, maybe a ten, but at least a one, and was very suprised when he that what he held in his hand was a pink parking ticket.
Johnny didn't own a car.
He put his hand back in his pocket to scrounge some more and pulled out a sock, a lamp shade, a bullet, a pink plastic barrette with a bunny on it, a football, a cordless telephone, four left-foot nike sneakers, a magnifying glass, a flashlight thing worn by miners, and a big smiley chinchilla.
And when I say smiley, I mean it. Like, chesire cat smiley.
But meanwhile, the vendor was ahem
-ing anxiously for payment. Johnny stared at the pile of useless crap at his feet.
*several seconds tick by*
"JEEEEZUS FRICKEN CHRIST JUST GIVE THE GUY THE GODDAMN PARKING TICKET!" exclaimed a very irritated, no-longer-smiley chinchilla.
Johnny stupidly gave the parking ticket to the street vendor.
"Ah, I see," said the street vendor after taking a look at the parking ticket. "This way." He pressed a button on the lemonade cart and a door popped open. Suddenly, Johnny was standing in front of the door. Somehow, the door wasn't around waist-level anymore but had became this huge gate towering over him ominously. He looked up some more. The even more huge lemonade cart was nowhere to be seen. There was no more lemonade cart and no more delicious color-morphing lemonade but just that doorway.
The man lead the way. There was some sort of passage inside that stretched into the darkness beyond. It was a completely featureless darkness, save for this road of some sort that was lighter than the surroundings.
Eventually they came upon a pedestal. On it sat a small box with a red button on it. There were some chit-chattering noises.
The street vendor motioned to the box. Johnny looked into the dim darkness and he saw some movement in the direction of the chit-chattering. There were hundreds of chinchillas.
"Now Johnny, I give you a choice. You can either press the RED BUTTON and kill one little chinchilla out of all of these and save the rest of them, or you could do nothing and have all of them except one die."
Johnny stared at the chinchillas, probably in shock. Or perhaps just a regular stupor because he's dumb, who knows.
"So Johnny, what would it be?" The vendor asked.
The chinchillas kept on chattering incoherently. Appearently THESE couldn't talk in human.
Johnny gaped at the street vendor.
He hoped the chinchillas wouldn't come any closer, wouldn't start creeping around his feet close enough for him to start recognizing features, appealing to him on that obnoxious, innate cuteness level. damn.
the chittering grew louder, to the level of a dull roaring.
The street vendor pulled Johnny's lemonade out of his pocket. "Here, man. no charge. Just try not to take all day, aright? I got a business to run up there."
Johnny shook his head. "Why do I have to do this, huh?"
The vendor just gave him a look, rolled his eyes. Kept silent.
"Are they important? I mean, significant?"
"Dude, all the questions are yours. All the answers are yours, too. Jus' get on with it."
Johnny hesitated, his finger poised above the button.
He pressed it.
There was a small piff
from somewhere far back in the crowd of small furry bodies, and then Johnny's mind was flooded with information that wasn't his own. The chinchilla's life and memories and impulses and feelings and ..thoughts? but not thoughts, just the entire content of the small dead creature's brain. But i'm dead, too,
Johnny remembered, a piece of his own psyche surfacing in the confusion. He opened his eyes, not having realized that he had closed them. The vendor smirked and walked away. Johnny stood still, not knowing whether to follow or stay, to try to find the dead (exploded, he suspected) chinchilla, or to walk on further into the darkness.
The lemonade vendor - Bill, he liked to call himself, proudly thinking that it sounded so very normal - had not so much sneaked off, as just pointedly walked away while Johnny was busy. He took a different route back, and was climbing a heavy, thick, rusted metal ladder, emerging next to a display of woman's shoes in a large, trendy department store. Around him, shoppers stared at the man who had just appeared out of nowhere, and looked as if he belonged rummaging under the hood of a car. He left quickly. Shoes made him uncomfortable. Especially shoes with no feet in them.
Back out on the sidewalk, Bill took a breath, enjoying the smell of exhaust fumes and ocean water. He heard uproarious laughter across the street. Familiar laughter. He glanced over, and there, near the park gate, was the laughing man. Bill thought he shouldn't have been surprised, but scowled a little nonetheless as he crossed the street and said hello.
"D-d-do you rea..realize," the man said amidst gales of laughter, "t-that he doesn't even l-l-l-like chinchillas?" he took a deep breath, still laughing. "The morals!" he burst into a new wave of laughter.
Bill grunted noncommitally. He didn't see what was so funny, but he didn't want to be rude. The man was, after all, the devil.
Today, he was dressed for the public, decked out in what he thought of as his most devilish-looking clothing, finding people far less likely to believe you're the devil if you look too much like him. Today, he wanted no trouble or delays, did not want to mingle or bring people to his side; if he had to tell people who he was, he wanted to be able to smile handsomely, tell them the truth, and be disbelieved with a smile, letting him on his way.
Someone had once decided that black and red were awfully devilish colors, and the devil had been delighted. He'd never thought to put the two together before, but was proud of just how dashing he looked in black. He'd heard it was very slimming, though he hardly needed that. Today, he wore a jet black tailcoat with a deep red pocket square, jet black dress pants stitched with crimson red thread, a black vest over a black dress shirt, with a silver pocket watch, a straight black cane that was less for walking and more for gesturing wildly with, and black and white dress spats; he'd become fond of the shoes years ago, and had been horribly disappointed when they'd gone out of style, resulting in several wars to avenge his anger. He even allowed his small, tasteful dark red horns to peer out from beneath his slightly disheveled black hair. His eyes were red, squinty, and held both the good and evil of centuries. But mostly the evil.
Yes, he certainly looked like the devil. Well. The devil, or a particularly villainous used-car salesman.
"Anyway," the devil said, laughter reduced to the occassional giggle, "you didn't tell him about me, did you?"
"I didn' tell him anytin," Bill said shortly. "But I'm sure he knowed annway. He's prolly hearda you before."
The devil waved his hand dismissively. "All he knows is that crap that they spew, which you should know is hardly true. But I have it a lot easier than that perfect matyr they've created of God. Hah! God." He shook his head and laughed again.
"The real reason I'm here, I have something for you." The devil reached into the breast pocket of his jacket. He pressed something into Bill's hand, not letting him see what it was. "I really must be off," the devil said, shaking Bill's hand. "All kinds of appointments, you know. I have to see him tonight, if you know who I mean," the devil said with a combination of wink and scowl. Bill didn't know who he meant, though he thought perhaps God.
"Enjoy," the devil said, and vanished in a rather impressive cloud of dark grey smoke tinged with scarlet.